Latest Posts​

Composite or Hardwood decking? ​

In the not too distant past, back when I first picked up a shovel and ventured into landscaping and garden design, timber decking was all the rage and we were throwing together American style decks like there was no tomorrow.  Except tomorrow it rained, and the day after, and half of the days to come after that.  We soon realised that softwood was not meant for decking in the UK, especially in the gardens of the North West of England.  After all of the scrubbing and re-staining along came composite decking.  It look a bit plastic but it meant we could still have decking but we didn't have to spend hours maintaining each year.  It didn't look perfect but it did the trick, kind of!   Over the past few years decking has really made a comeback and whereas before my clients shuddered at the suggestion of a deck, many are now seeing the benefits of them and they’ve once again become an integral part of the contemporary landscape.  They add texture with their clean lines and bright ideas such as ground level decks they break up the paving adding shape and form.   The question I ask my clients when they include decking in their design brief is Timber or Composite?  I still see that shudder as soon as i mention timber.  “No not softwood, hardwood” I explain, yet still I’m met with reservations.  Which should you choose, what are the benefits of each type of material and what are the drawbacks?    Let’s start with composite decking.  Often recycled plastics and wood fibres this isn't going to rot, swell, twist and warp although the frame it’s built on may still do so.  Some are non-slip but a lot are not and equally dangerous especially in frosty or damp, shady conditions.  You can now use composite frames to build decks on which it a no-brainer if you ask me, but this is the most expensive way of building a deck.  Composite require very little maintenance, just the odd sweep and washing down.  My problem with them is always the visual appeal, some look good especially in silver as they don't look so much like plastic wood.  Within the last few years Millboard has risen and brought us their incredible Enhanced grain which is polyurethane moulded from smooth timber to give a really effective and non-slip finish (see image).  It actually looks like wood!  It’s not cheap however and by far the most expensive option when creating a deck but well worth it.  Follow the link for more information  Forget your previous experiences of Scandinavian Pine decking, there is a natural alternative in alternative softwoods and tropical hardwoods.  If it’s in the damp shade all day then  it can gather algae and may get slippy as will anything, even composite decking in the same position.  There are several options from the more durable softwoods such as Red Western  Cedar and Siberian Larch to the almost indestructible tropical hardwoods such as Yellow Balau, Iroko, Mandioqueira  etc.  All FSC certified and sourced from sustainable sources although they wouldn’t be as environmentally friendly as composite.  For me this is the look I would want in my garden.  It won't look as new if left alone forever so it does require maintenance to keep it looking fresh, Cedar every year or two, Balau and similar hardwoods every 3-5 years as it’s more durable and  dense.  Avoid a grooved finish in my opinion, you might think it adds more grip but it allows dirt and the slippy stuff to take hold and is harder to maintain.  A nice smooth finish will give you the best look and make life a little easier when it  comes around to sanding and sealing.  As for expense, in the long run it may prove more costly with the maintenance if you're employing someone to do the work but for installations hardwood is a lot cheaper.  So even if you're living in soggy Manchester it's certainly worth considering for your  landscape design project.  For a good selection of hardwood timber and similar products take a look at the link below. There is one more to consider called Kebony.  It’s a sustainable softwood engineered to take on the properties of hardwood.  It requires little to no maintenance and gives you the finish of a striking tropical hardwood.  It’s an incredible material developed in Norway, it silvers beautifully and you'll sleep much better at night knowing how much more environmentally friendly it is compared to tropical hardwoods.  Follow the link below for more information.    ​  

Art deco garden - Northern Design Awards Finalist

Just recently my Art deco inspired garden in Cheshire was selected as a finalist in the Domestic Landscapes category and it will soon be featured in the Pro landscaper Manchester supplement so I thought I'd do a little write up and give a little background information on the garden including the brief, the journey and the products selected and challenges faced. The brief from the clientHaving the luxury of two private gardens and being able to dedicate the other garden for the children, the clients wanted to create a contemporary, urban garden garden for themselves to enjoy. They wanted a space with a ‘wow’ factor with bold lines and an industrial feel.  At the same time the garden needed to be inviting with a relaxed atmosphere, a space that was modern but not too stark or clinical. It was during the initial consultation that the designer picked up on the 30’s style architecture of the property and somewhat Art deco influence of the sitting room decor which backs onto the garden and suggested using the classic design style as inspiration for the garden. The planting brief was to create interest and warmth using texture but to be unfussy in colour with subtle splashes of white and purple tones.   The design and build processThe client made it very clear from the initial stages that they wanted to allow the designer every freedom to create a garden which wasn’t too influenced by their suggestions, instead allowed to develop naturally.  Having such freedoms during the design stage allowed the garden to remain balanced.  Although in essence it is a contemporary garden, having a theme as complimentary as Art Deco made the design process fun and interesting.  The garden subtly demonstrates some of the patterns found in Art Deco architecture, art, interior and furniture design, such as the paving border and the custom designed water feature and wall hung screens.     As the existing garden was quite small, featureless and flat and views out to the space were limited the clients required height interest to bring the garden to life.  A wood store was also needed.  In response to this the idea of the screens and the pergola were introduced however they only provided a framing around the striking white stems of the Himalayan Birch. Once decided on the masterplan a local contractor and friend of the client, Graeme Neald was brought in to translate the plan.  Despite on the exterior this being a simple garden of formal lines, getting the lines to a match precisely was a challenge.  The majority of the build ran very smoothly with good weather throughout, also the benefit of being next to the road helped as materials could be craned over the wall.  On completion of the garden the client wanted a sofa to match and commissioned me to create one which tied in with the gardens materials. MaterialsThe majority of the materials were all sourced from local suppliers to the North West.  The granite paving, slate walling and pebbles were sourced from Landscape World, Widnes. The Yellow Balau fencing was sourced from Whitmores Timber, Winsford.  Stockport Metal Fabricators created the bespoke metalwork according to the detailed custom designs.  All the plants and trees were sourced and supplied by Ladybrook Nurseries, Bramhall. Paving & Walling  Landscape World Timber  Whitmores Timber   MetalworkStockport Metal Fabrications  Water blade and Pond lightsWater Garden Plants & TreesLadybrook Nursey 

Winter is coming 

When you think ‘winter’ you don’t automatically think ‘garden’.  You’ve spent all that time and money during the summer on getting your garden right, in roll the dark nights, you get home from work only to find a black abyss as you peer out of your window towards your borders.   Being a contemporary garden designer in Cheshire I am all too aware of the climate and lets be honest, it’s not the Algarve.  Wet and windy conditions are another reason not to head outside at this time of year.   Having said that, with the right mood lighting those dark, wet and windy nights can be something of a spectacle whilst sat in the warmth and comfort of your living room.  In fact many of the gardens I’ve designed in the past have often looked their best at night.  You get to see textures you wouldn’t normally notice and highlight plants with architectural forms that look impressive during the day but staggering at night.  You can expect to spend approximately 5-10% of your budget on lighting but you’ll get 50% more garden throughout the year.  Worth it?  Without doubt, lighting is one of the most important features of my designs and when designing your garden I will create a lighting scheme as part of the design service. For some lighting inspiration take a look at my Pinterest board… Keep an eye out for future blogs for information on lighting schemes, techniques and tips and tricks.​

What is a garden to you?

Cheshire landscape designer give his thought on what a garden means to us

New Cheshire Garden Designer 

I thought it might be a good idea to not only introduce my new blog but also myself as I’m new to Cheshire.   Having spent 10 years in South Wales designing gardens, my wife and I fancied a change of scenery and took it upon ourselves to sell our home and buy a house in Knutsford after falling in love with the area during our quest to find somewhere new to live. Having done my research I noticed there’s a fair few garden designers to choose from in Cheshire so I thought to myself, ‘how am I going to stand out’?  Which leads me nicely to introducing my blog.  Ok, so it’s a bit of a gimmick to get me up the rankings on google so don’t be surprised if you see me dropping in ‘Cheshire garden designer’ here and there. My blog is also an opportunity to explain a little about who I am and what my design philosophy is.  When I looked into local landscape designers I felt that my portfolio had something else to offer.   So what’s my style?  I’ll always design a garden that the client requests so if you say Japanese garden, that’s what you’ll get.  As with any creative there’s always going to be a slice of the designer within their creation.   Over the years my portfolio has slowly been looking more and more like my kind of garden.  I’m always drawn to more contemporary gardens with strong formal lines and that is often visible in my designs.  I love minimalism but I love bold statements and textures too so contrasts are something I work with a lot.   Ever since I was a young, budding art student I’ve loved modern architecture.  The more I am able to express my style in my designs the more evidential that becomes, as with the natural landscape being a keen hiker and traveller.  So if I have free reign over a garden design you’ll see wild elements of textured planting with stark architectural contrasts, natural materials next to the more contemporary and even industrial.  With that in mind I’m very much a ‘less is more’ kind of person so I don’t over complicate my designs, and on that note I shall not overcomplicate my first blog.   As I develop my blog and as I develop as a garden designer I shall be sharing my thoughts and philosophies as well as anything I might learn along the way, or if there’s something useful I might share that with you too.  ​


Robert Hughes Garden Design is an award winning, innovative and creative landscape design practice based in Knutsford, Cheshire.  


I offer a professional garden design service to domestic and commercial clients in Cheshire, Manchester, Liverpool and all around the North West of England.

let's talk

Robert Hughes

7 Ash Grove, Knutsford,

Cheshire, WA16 8BB


01565 621304 

07825 371337


FB: /RobertHughesGardenDesign



Robert Hughes Garden Design

Robert Hughes Garden Design

Robert Hughes Garden Design